IT APPEARS as though the government is determined to go ahead with hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for shale gas in the Karoo, regardless of what recommendations its task team comes up with.
That’s if comments by Energy Minister Dipuo Peters on Thursday are anything to go by. Speaking in Johannesburg, Peters reportedly said: “We cannot allow a blessing to lie fallow… if shale gas is one of the blessings, we are going to go for it.” She was also quoted as saying that uranium was another of our blessings, and that “God gave us these resources, and therefore we have to use them”.
Her rather quaint views on geological processes that took place over millions of years aside, Minister Peters’ gung-ho approach sets her on a collision course with not only a growing body of scientific evidence, but also with her formidable colleague Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor.
Pandor is the driving force behind South Africa’s successful bid – we will share the final endeavour two thirds to one third with Australia and New Zealand – to host one of the most ambitious scientific projects of modern times, the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope. There will be a light and radio wave pollution exclusion zone of 70km around the SKA main site near Carnarvon, a radius which will rule out a big section of Shell’s proposed prospecting region.
But there are other, equally compelling reasons to put a dampener on Minister Peters’ enthusiasm for fracking the Karoo. As reported in this newspaper on Friday, one of South Africa’s leading geohydrologists, Professor Gerrit van Tonder of the University of the Free State, has reversed his previous enthusiasm for the fracking process.
A year ago he wrote that Karoo farmers need not fear groundwater pollution from the toxic fracking chemicals. But new research conducted with doctoral student Fanie de Lange has convinced him “100 percent” that fracking could lead to one of the world’s biggest water pollution problems.
While their research is preliminary, and has not yet been peer-reviewed, we would urge Peters to curb her enthusiasm for fracking and instead look at the alternative sources of energy available – not least of which are the vast reserves of natural gas that are about to come onstream in Mozambique, and important advances in photovoltaic and other renewable sources of energy.